The Redhead Cluster Phenomenon
It’s been documented, and I sure as heck am documenting it here: You happen upon redheads in close sequence, followed by long periods of seeing none whatsoever. You’ll see five in an afternoon and then none for two weeks.
This, dear friends, is the Redhead Cluster Phenomenon.
And I’m not kidding when I say it’s been documented. Where, you ask? In Twins: An Investigation Into the Strange Coincidences in the Lives of Separated Twins by Peter Watson (1981; library citation), which constitutes a stunning example of adapting scientific research to a lay audience. In this case, the goal was to explain the putative coincidences everyone associates with twins, particularly identical ones.
Paul Kammerer, an Austrian biologist of the early twentieth century, ...discovered the “law of series” in which coincidental events run in (say) threes.... Kammerer would spend hours, wherever he went, recording the height, hair colour and type of hat worn by every passerby. He made the observation that men with red hair tended to pass by in clusters with long gaps in between.
That does not mean red-haired men were spotted consecutively, though that surely happened. Rather, the researcher noted several redheads in a short period, followed by a longer period with no redheads whatsoever.
Now, such research is population-specific. Many Germans have black or blond hair; combined with the preponderance of brown-haired men, redheads would be quite rare, which makes the findings all the more noteworthy. In Ireland or Scotland, it might be unremarkable to encounter redheads in clumps.
Here in the province of Toronto, white people are barely the majority. According to Statistics Canada figures from the 1996 census, 31.38% of Toronto residents are “visible minorities,” suggesting that roughly 69% of Torontonians are Caucasian. Redheads constitute at most 5% of the population (I’ll give statistics below). While a tiny few redheads are black (e.g,. Malcolm X), most are Caucasian. In Toronto, therefore, redheads might amount to 5% of 69% of the population, or 3.45%. Of every 10,000 Torontonians, at the very most 345 are red-haired.
Put another way, if you watched several hundred people pass by, you would average three redheads per hundred people, assuming an even distribution. If the distribution were truly even, in fact, roughly one out of every 30 people would have red hair. A bus at rush hour can easily hold 50 people. On how many days recently have you taken bus rides and noticed one or two redheads on each of those rides?
We do not observe an even distribution. We observe no redheads at all for days at a time, then an enormous spike in the graph in, say, a single afternoon.
What’s going on here?
I can only assume that some kind of determinism is at work. In other words, fate.
Numbers of people with red hair are difficult to come by. And I’ve done a lot of searching – forensic texts, dermatology books, genetics tracts, everything. I have considerable research experience, and I’ve had better luck looking up far more obscure topics, like the incidence of head injuries among wheelchair athletes. There just aren’t a lot of stats on who has what colour hair.
Here’s the available data.
- T. E. Reed (1952) declares simply that “The frequency of red hair in Britain is only about 4%.” Reed (citation) goes on to document his study of 597 “mentally defective” boys and girls, which located 17 boys and 17 girls each with a hair colour “which could conceivably be classed as ’red.’” That’s 5.6%. Many of those subjects were later eliminated from the definition of red hair through spectrophotometric analysis of hair colour. Those and other pseudo-objective measurements later gave Reed the confidence to declare that “the frequency of red hair in this population of 597 children is 0.042±0.008,” or 4.2±0.8%. At most 5%, in other words.
- Reaching even farther back, Michelson (1934) found 435 out of 2,397 male subjects “showed a red component in their hair.” That’s 18%. Subsequent research by others verifies that the proportion of people with any red hair – e.g., ruddy whiskers – hovers between 18% and 20%.
- However, Michelson (citation) performed a careful count of the proportion of red hairs in the heads of his subjects. Of 2,361 final subjects (very light hair was excluded), 56 had 50% or more red hairs on the head (2.37%).
- Tellingly, 45 of those 56 (1.91% of the total sample) had 75% or more red-hair coverage, suggesting that redheads are rare, but when they’re red-haired, they’re very red-haired, while the remainder are rather borderline cases.
- Michelson seems unique in citing the ethnic backgrounds of his subjects with any red hair: “214 Irish, 48 northern Europe, 31 Jewish, 26 German, 11 Scotch, 19 southern and central Europe, and 86 not given.”
- A more recent study in the field of genetics (citation) states that “We found 4.85% of the parents to be red-haired or to have been so early in life.”
There seems to be a consensus that redheads account for about 4% of the population. Precious jewels, you might say.
Where I come in
As we’ll see in the History section, since boyhood I’ve always believed, at the deepest level, that redheads are standard-bearers of the grandest and most wondrous human beauty. Redheaded males, I mean. I barely notice girls, and I certainly barely notice red-haired girls, despite coming of age in the Farrah Fawcett-Majors era.
(This discovery was inchoate for years. I couldn’t put it into words. And I remember, at an early age, having to actually be told that boys could be blond. We are not talking about strictly linear and rational memories here.)
I’ve observed the Redhead Cluster Phenomenon for a decade. As an example, a friend and I walked through a craft show and noticed a tall red-haired man. I told my friend we’d probably spot a few more. Within 20 minutes, six red-haired men had walked past. My friend was agog – and he had a degree in religious studies and was well-read on mythology, mysticism, and religious philosophy. The RhCP was too much of a coincidence even for him.
What’s on this site
I’ve decided to take this red-haired determinism out of the closet. Hence this site.
- History gives background about me, my dealings with redheads, and my own experience with the RhCP. Warning: Long. If you’re the kind of person who thinks Web writing should resemble a grocery list, don’t look at this page, because it contains actual prose.
- Definitions gets us all working with the same terminology, which is a tad fluid when it comes to multifaceted creatures like redheads.
- Sightings lists actual RhCP sightings in the field – a database I’ll continually update and to which you may eventually contribute.
- The obligatory links page.
So where are the sexy redhead photographs? Ahem. I do have a few ideas, but nothing to show you just yet.
- Reed, T.E., 1952. “Red hair colour as a genetical character,” Annals of Eugenics, 17:115–139
- Michelson, Nicholas, 1934. “Distribution of red hair according to age,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 18(3):407–413
- Eiberg, H., and J. Mohr, 1987. “Major locus for red hair color linked to MNS blood groups on chromosome 4,” Clinical Genetics, 32(2):125–128